The History of Cunard – From UK Mail Carrier to Luxury International Cruise Line


Built on speed, safety and unrivalled luxury, Cunard is renowned as the world’s most historic passenger line, with origins dating back to 1839. Today, the British owned line operates a fleet of three ultra-luxurious vessels which embody its longstanding tradition of exceptional White Star Service. 2015 will mark 175 years of sailing, a milestone well worthy of celebration! So how did the company go from government mail carrier to one of the world’s most prominent multinational passenger lines? Let’s take a look…

1839 – The company was borne when Sir Samuel Cunard won the very first British Government contract which would see him provide a regular steamship mail service across the North Atlantic Ocean.

Samuel Cunard memorial in Halifax

1840 – Cunard was undergoing massive growth and in 1840 the line joined forces with Robert Napier, a famous Scottish steamship engineer. The move saw the company renamed the British and North American Royal Mail Steam-Packet Company.

1870 – For 30 years the line held the coveted Blue Riband trophy. However in the 1970s its reign was overtaken by White Star Line and Inman Line.

1879 – In a bid to win back its Blue Riband domination the line made a strategic capital raising move and re-launched under the name of Cunard Steamship Company Ltd.

1902 – When White Star merged with US owned International Mercantile Marine Co. the UK Government loaned Cunard the cash to construct two superliners in order to retain the Blue Riband.

1906 – Cunard launches RMS Lusitania and Mauretania. The latter was a 240.8 metre vessel which enjoyed status as the world’s largest ship. Here is a photo of RMS Lusitania in 1910:

RMS Lusitania

1915 – A German U-boat launches a torpedo at RMS Lusitania which causes the death of 1198 people and prompts the US to enter WWI.

1934 – After the Great Depression forced Cunard to postpone construction on its new superliner, this year saw the UK government loan Cunard the cash to finish Queen Mary and fund Queen Elizabeth. The loan was offered on the condition that Cunard merge with White Star to form Cunard-White Star Ltd.

1936 – Cunard launches its new flagship vessel, RMS Queen Mary.

1938 – RMS Queen Elizabeth joins Queen Mary on the high seas.

1947 – Cunard buys out White Star’s share in Cunard-White Star Ltd.

1950 – The company changes its name to Cunard Line.

1958 – The development of the Jet aircraft and the Boeing 707 trans-Atlantic route seriously jeopardises the profitability of the ocean liner industry.

1969 – Cunard refuses to succumb to the competition and launches Queen Elizabeth 2, a vessel celebrated as the world’s most luxurious ship.


1971 – The line is purchased by British owned conglomerate, Trafalgar House.

1983 – Cunard continues to grow and acquires the Norwegian America Line.

1998 – Cunard is acquired by the Carnival Corporation.

2003 – Queen Elizabeth 2’s transatlantic run is overtaken by Queen Mary 2, a US$900 million luxury liner.

2007 – Cunard welcomes its newest fleet member, the 90,000 GT MS Queen Victoria.

2010 – The line launches 2,092 passenger MS Queen Elizabeth.

MS Queen Elizabeth in YOKOHAMA

2011 – All three of Cunard’s fleet members change their registry port to Hamilton, Bermuda in a move that will allow captains to marry couples at sea.

2015 – In 2015, Cunard is gearing up to celebrate its 175th anniversary!

For 175 years Cunard has managed to retain its status as the world’s longest running passenger cruise line operating the most luxurious vessels on the planet. If you have your heart set on enjoying the unrivalled Cunard experience Cruise 1st has some amazing offers starting at just $99 per day. From Australasia and the Far East to the British Isles and the Transatlantic, Cunard ensures that every passenger revels in the elegance, luxury and exceptional service that has continued to attract passengers for decades.

See the Latest Cunard Cruise Deals

Images sourced via Flickr Creative Commons. Credit: Beverley Goodwin, T Hino, Michael Fowler, James Vaughn and Gabriel O’Brien.


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